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Smart Home

Thinking of gifting an Amazon Echo or Google Home? Read this first

Consider these key things first before gifting smart home gadgets.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart home devices are a hot gift this holiday season, just take a look at the sales at many online and brick and mortar stores and you'll find deals on Google Home and Amazon Echo smart speakers, Phillips Hue and Lifx smart bulbs, plus many more smart home devices.

However, gifting someone a smart home product can feel intimidating because there are a lot of factors at play. Are they team Amazon, Google or Apple? What smart devices do they already have?

A smart home device can be a great gift, just as long as you do your homework first. Don't worry though. In this guide, we'll cover the right questions to ask, plus the key facts to know before you spend.

Read more: Send these 22 tips to anyone you gifted an Amazon Echo

Which smart home devices make great gifts?

Smart home products run the gamut from sophisticated speakers and web-enabled displays, to simple countertop toaster ovens and coffee makers.

Today's most popular smart home products include:

If your giftee doesn't have any smart home products, start with a smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo Dot ($30 at Amazon) or Google Home Mini ($49 at Google Store). Both take up very little room, but come with all of the same features as their full-sized counterparts.

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A speaker that works best with Google or Amazon? It's an important consideration before you give one as a gift. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon or Google?

Picking the right smart speaker to gift starts with figuring out if they require accounts with Google and Amazon, services your gift recipient uses.

Do they have an Android phone and/or use Google for their email, calendar, maps and more? A Google Home ($129 at Walmart) speaker is a great fit and set up will be easy because they already have a Google account.

If you're buying a smart speaker for someone who shops on Amazon frequently, the line of Echo speakers is a good choice. They can use it to buy items from Amazon, plus a whole lot more.

Maybe your gift recipient has a speaker setup they love, and doesn't want a new smart speaker. You can gift them Alexa in the form of the Echo Input. This small device gives all of the same features as an Echo on their existing speakers.

Read more: 27 tips for a new Google Home speaker

Which phone do they have?

Smartphones play a big roll in setting up and using any smart home device, so it's worth considering which phone the person you are shopping for has. A particular connected home device might not work as well on an Android handset versus an iPhone ($999 at Apple). One version of a product's app may have bugs galore, or missing features.

There might not even be an Android or iOS application at all. For instance, the Motif Mentor smart coffee scale lacks an Android app (iOS only). And the WinkBed smart mattress has an Android app that barely works, while its iPhone software is quite stable.

Check which phone the receiver of your gift has. Then confirm there's matching, and problem-free, software available for your smart home gadget present.

It's best to buy a gift that will play nicely with other smart gadgets already in its prospective home. 

Josh Miller

Ask what's already at home

Maybe your giftee already has an Echo or Google Home speaker. Finding out what they already have can help you pick the right gift.

For instance, say they already have multiple Amazon Echo speakers, and perhaps a Fire TV. Giving them a Ring doorbell is the way to go. That's because Ring is an Amazon brand and is plugged tightly into its platform of connected products.

The opposite is the case for people with various Google Home devices, including a Nest thermostat. In that case, the best smart doorbell for them is the Nest Hello.

Smart light bulbs are little more forgiving. The two most popular brands, Philips Hue and Lifx, work with systems in both camps.

However, some lighting systems -- Philips Hue and Lutron -- require separate networking hubs to function. If a hub like this already sits at home, gifting a compatible light source makes the best sense. To learn more about which devices work with others, check out our nifty smart home product compatibility matrix.

The Google WiFi is an excellent mesh networking router option.

CNET

Think about their home network

A smart home device linked to bad home Wi-Fi isn't much use. Make sure that special someone you'd like to gift also has an adequate network. 

Even a basic Echo Dot or Google Home Mini can't run on slow DSL in the sticks. The same is true for weak signals in far-flung basements or upper floors.

If you know the person you're shopping for is excited about smart home devices, and will keep getting new ones, consider getting them a mesh Wi-Fi system. They blanket an entire home with a strong Wi-Fi signal, so that every smart device has the reliable connection it needs to work. Google Wifi and Netgear Orbi are two such systems we like.

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